Cracked

It started with a lie. Just a little lie, a little word-one syllable. No, she repeated fiercely. No, I don’t have a problem. She lied to herself and then to him. One lie turned into many. She met him one night and soon one night turned into three and three days turned into three months and two people turned into three. The lies didn’t stop there, even when her belly grew, swelling full of her secrets.

Rachel sat one night in a cocoon of blankets, her feet propped up on an expensive satin pillow. Denny was out buying ice cream to satisfy her pregnancy cravings-another lie; she just wanted him out of the house-so she was now alone in their immaculate suburban home. Rachel lay on their bed, a crumpled plastic bag beside her, now empty. Her hand pulsed on the TV remote and her eyes fixed like glass on the ceiling. A silver spoon rested in her other hand. It was one o’clock, but she couldn’t sleep. The last thing she wanted was ice cream, but still, she couldn’t bear Denny’s sympathy, his care, and his clinginess. He wouldn’t sleep until she did. It was suffocating, and lately she worried he suspected. He’d be back soon. Not much time. Rachel raked in shallow breaths and lowered her eyes to their gold bedspread. Her breathing stopped when she caught sight of the dark stain pooling around her thighs. The phone was in her hand in a second; she bit her lip in pain as she dialed the three digits.

Denny arrived at the hospital an hour later, melted vanilla dripping from the grocery bag he’d forgotten to let go of. Two burly male nurses held him back when he lunged towards a pale creature on a gurney that resembled his wife. His body shook as the doctor tried to explain to him that his wife was recovering from surgery; she was still in shock and faced severe uterine trauma. They managed to remove the baby, but she was only twenty-nine weeks and was having difficulty breathing, so they had rushed her to surgery.

“So what are you saying? Our child isn’t going to make it?”

“Sir, we are doing everything we can for your daughter. She’s stable for now, but-”

“Wait. Did you say ‘daughter’? I-we-we have a girl?”

“Yes, sir. Two pounds eleven ounces.”

“And she’s okay for now? I mean…”

“She is stable, but-”

“She’s stable. That’s good, right? You can save her, you-”

“Mr. Donovan, your wife had a placental abruption. We had to remove the child surgically. It was a rough surgery, and we were able to repair most of the damage to your wife, but…” the doctor’s eyebrows furrowed.

“But?” Denny searched.

“Your baby still isn’t breathing on her own. Preterm birth comes with a myriad of possible defects. We are monitoring your child and running her blood to test for any abnormalities, and I really think you should-”

“Abnormalities.” Denny rubbed his cold, wet palms across his forehead. There was something they weren’t telling him.

“Nothing is certain, yet. We’ll see where we are in the morning.”

Denny sensed that was all he would get out of the doctor, and he resigned to the futility of his presence. The doctors smiled thinly and turned on their heels with a squeak, leaving Denny alone in the hallway. The nurses reappeared and, seeing he had calmed down, escorted him to Rachel’s private room. She looked so pale in the dark room, her skin like white ash. Denny lowered himself to the floor and kneeled beside her, glancing up at her bruise-colored eyelids. He took her hand beneath his as a pillow and fell asleep to the reassuring beeps of her heart monitor. It was the last night they would spend together.
*
*
*
*
*
“Mr. Donovan. Mr. Donovan? Mr. Donovan!”

Denny woke to the sharp, tapping fingers of an orderly on his shoulder. He looked up at Rachel, who was still silently sleeping. His neck ached, and he wasn’t fully coherent, but he stood up quickly and faced the orderly, demanding to see his daughter. The woman shuffled her feet and looked away.

“You need to talk to Dr. Swanson.”

Denny allowed himself to be led down the hall and into the NICU. He dressed in a powder blue button-on gown, gloves, and a facemask, a clone of the doctors and parents already milling about in the unit.

“Mr. Donovan,” the doctor from the night before smiled tightly in Denny’s direction. A cluster of other blue clones with clipboards shuffled their feet around the incubator at Dr. Swanson’s side.

“Doctor…uh…Swanson? They said I should talk to-”

“Yes, yes. Well, we…we received your daughter’s blood work this morning.”
Denny bridled. He hid his red eyes, eyeing branches of cracks in the tile floor.

“The results show that your daughter has been exposed to substantial amounts of cocaine.”

Cocaine. The word thundered within Denny’s sweating head.

“To the best of your knowledge, had your wife ingested any cocaine during the term of her pregnancy?”

“WHAT? No, no. It…it’s impossible. Your results are wrong. Not Rachel. Not my wife,” his voice cracked and fluctuated in anger and confusion.

“We gave your wife a work-up as well, and she also showed traces of the substance. It appears that recent abuse of the substance was the cause of the abruption that induced the preterm labor.”

Denny couldn’t think. Impossible.
“We’ve checked these results, Denny.”

“It’s Mr. Donovan.”

“Mr. Donovan. We take situations like this very seriously.”

Denny couldn’t take it anymore; he shoved past the doctors to his daughter’s incubator and pressed his palms and nose to the plastic window. She was so small. He hadn’t expected it to be like this. So frail and tiny. Multicolored wires, like external veins, wrapped over her smooth, pink skin, her little chest. Her head, no bigger than an orange, and hardly even that large, was covered in a soft pink cap, several sizes too big. Her eyes were closed with folds of pale pink lids. She was beautiful.

Denny rebelled against reality. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She was supposed to be perfect and healthy; she was supposed to be in his arms. She was supposed to make Rachel happy again, but...cocaine? She’s not even a day old. How could she deserve this? Denny wanted to take his little, struggling child and return her to Rachel’s womb, where she could finish developing safely. She had been protected in there. Or had she?

“Denny,” Dr. Swanson spoke softly. Denny didn’t correct him this time.

“There are some things we need to discuss.”

Denny ripped himself away from his baby and focused his hard, grey eyes on the doctor. Then, his eyes fell to the floor. He tried for a moment to maintain his resolve and continue defending his wife. But he couldn’t. Even he had stopped believing his excuses long ago. He assumed that lump of his salary had gone to some new shoes or a bag or something, but then why was there never a receipt, or any records on the credit card bill? He knew Rachel had been acting differently, and he assumed it was just the pregnancy; no, it had always been there, even before the news of the baby. And he loved her. He loved her like no one else. Why wasn’t it enough? He’d felt her pull away, but the baby was supposed to fix that. The physical incarnation of their love in flesh and blood was supposed to bind them, forever. That was the plan. But this? No. He had never expected this.

The stone of his eyes melted and poured out heavy, wet tracks onto his cheeks. He thought of Rachel, pale and silent in the other room, and of their baby, so small and helpless, her breathing so shaky. Just like her mother. He forced himself to remember all of the little lies, all the little words, every syllable. Each one sliced his heart, severing him with painful necessity from the past love that threatened interference with his new duty, fatherhood. Was it possible? With grim certainty, he resigned to the answer.

Denny’s eyes hardened to the core again and looked up from the cracks in the floor to the doctors.

“I don’t want my wife anywhere near my daughter.”





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

SpringRayyn said...
Oct. 30, 2010 at 9:34 pm
I like how you put in lots of cracks in the story (like details about cracks) to go with the title and not just the title being the feeling of the story. The ending was pretty awesome, and I also like how the view switches from wife to husband and isn't too confusing.
 
MadisonReneeJane said...
Oct. 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm
Ahhh! This was amzingly great! I love the last sentence, I love the rhythum and the flow. Awesome work!
 
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